Lee Frost turns the heat up on the popular suburb and its lawless drug users ahead of move to new Cheshire site
When people think of Chorlton the cliches roll in thick and fast, all of them some variation on 'trendy hippy types' filling fancy coffee shops, vegan restaurants and generally making the place hum like incense with all things right-on.
What they don't perhaps imagine is the daily sight of men running down Wilbraham Road, arms full of shoplifted lager and steaks, shouting and swearing at each other as helpless Co-op workers look on. Later, the back alleys and precinct of Chorlton Cross shopping centre is littered with blackened tin foil and empty heroin wraps.
"You go down Beech Road and it's lovely. You stand on Wilbraham Road and look at these dickheads coming out of the Co-op with a load of robbed cans and steaks to sell in the local pubs, and it's a different story
One business that has been trading in the midst of all this is W H Frost Butchers, a stalwart of Chorlton Cross for 51 years. But not for much longer. Ahead of the planned redevelopment of Chorlton Cross, a seventies precinct, the leases for businesses have been terminated and notices dished out.
While some like A J Adams Fruit and Veg are closing for good, W H Frost is upping sticks to its own farm in Marton, Cheshire, and owner Lee Horsley Frost admitted - amongst other things - that while it was a shame to be leaving after half a century, Chorlton is not on the constant upward trajectory many assume.
"I'll tell you how Chorlton is at the moment," he said. "It's full of dickheads. There's people stealing from the local shops and causing a nuisance and then there's tinfoil all over the place at the back of the precinct where they've been smoking heroin. The coppers can see there's tin foil everywhere, they know what they're doing and they just ignore them - and that's if you even see a copper, because you don't see many.
"There's rubbish all over the council-owned land at the back of my shop, and all the shops that shut down are just turned into chicken shops and takeaways. Chorlton has changed drastically in the last few years. It's a dump.
"You go down Beech Road and it's lovely. You stand on Wilbraham Road and look at these dickheads coming out of the Co-op with a load of robbed cans and steaks to sell in the local pubs, and it's a different story. The usual conception is 'Chorlton is great, the house prices are going through the roof', and they are going through the roof, but why anyone would want to live around here I don't know. I wouldn't want to live around here and I wouldn't pay the prices that they're asking."
As well as the everyday disruption of the likes of shoplifting and drug use, behind the scenes is the political and administrative uncertainty of the fate of Chorlton Cross shopping centre. What form it will take is unclear right now, the only sure thing is that businesses like W H Frost Butchers and A J Adams won't be there anymore. Lee went on to explain costly works to create a cyclops junction for cyclists on Wilbraham Road has seen money sunk into a project that he believes could have been better spent.
"We have a Chorlton Traders meeting that none of the traders go to because the people that run it haven't got a fucking clue and no one's got any faith in the meetings," explained Lee.
"The meeting was the people that are redeveloping it on behalf of Greater Manchester Pension Fund, and they came up with some proposals: 20% of the redevelopment will be affordable housing - what that means, I don't know - and then the rest will be shops, retail space and then expensive apartments on top of those shops. That's the plans and whether they get planning permission for it I don't know, but we got told in February that they were terminating our lease next February, so gave us 12 months notice."
Lee continued: "Fair enough - it's old. It's probably 60 years old. It needs knocking down and rebuilding. But why couldn't they have done it in two phases? Why couldn't they have said, 'We'll knock half of it down. You move on to that side of the development and then when we've got this side set up, you can move into the new place'. There's no consideration for what we do. It's just 'we're kicking you out'.
"There's been £8m spent on a cycle lane and standing here now I can't see anybody on a bike coming down this road. So we've got an £8 million cycle lane that nobody uses because it's not wide enough, as one cyclist who comes in the shop told me, saying it's full of bumps and a waste of money. Rather than spending £8m perhaps they could have bought Chorlton Cross for about £5m a few years ago, redeveloped it, rented the shops out and looked after it."
All this speaks to the idea that maybe the timing is right for W H Frost to be leaving Chorlton, and ultimately this is just one man's opinion, with Chorlton a comfortable and safe place to live and work for many people. However it is not the oasis of good hippy living that it often presents itself as, and Lee explained that in reality the business anticipated change in Chorlton five years ago and acted accordingly.
"We knew this was going to happen and that we were going to leave Chorlton eventually, so we bought a farm about five years ago," he said. "I've got no qualms about leaving Chorlton because where we are at the moment is too small. I'm building a state of the art butchery on the farm; all-singing all-dancing. So it was good really that they gave me just a year's notice, because it means I've had to build it a bit quicker than we had planned. I'm building a new purpose-built butchery on our farm in Marton, we'll have an online shop and we'll do home deliveries. We get inundated with restaurants and hotels wanting us to supply for them and we are but we can give them a better service. There's a big new dry ageing fridge, a Himalayan salt ageing fridge, a separate area for me to cure the bacon, and a proper smoking kiln.
"There's been £8m spent on a cycle lane and standing here now I can't see anybody on a bike coming down this road.
"The side of the business which is increasing week on week is the food service business; supplying places like Hawksmoor, Dakota, The Midland, The Lowry, Mottram Hall, Shrigley Hall - we do all the top places. So I don't really need to have a small butcher's shop in Chorlton, but it's a shame because my great grandfather started this business from two small butcher shops in Mosside in the 1800s, but we carry on and we move with the times."
So while the last year has seen W H Frost's decision to leave Chorlton vindicated, and a new chapter in Cheshire awaits, it still sees a local institution leaving a part of Manchester that prides itself on nurturing independents, in words at least if not in deeds.
Manchester City Council and Greater Manchester Police were both approached for comment, but no response arrived by time of publication. We will report their responses as soon as we receive them.
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